The Wild Geese of Crusheen

The Wild Geese Monument – The Rock of Crusheen

Motorists on the M18 are familiar with the most unusual and delightful landmark at the Crusheen exit 15 on the left hand side, from Galway to Limerick.  The construction or monument is made up of large stones arranged in a pyramid shape.  It is guarded by brilliant white, fierce looking wild geese, standing to attention all in perfect order and line.  The wild birds, while resting are vigilant, watchful, ready to take off.  A Clare sign, a Clare flag and the Tricolour occupy prominent positions at the top and in the surrounding field.  The grass around the monument is always meticulously maintained and tidy.  The structure is even more striking during the night when flood-lit.  It is surrounded by a robust electric fence ensuring security and the safety for the many animals in the surrounding fields.

For seven years I have been going up and down that very stretch of motorway and wondered so often what the structure signified, what was behind it, what it represented.  Some years back I posted a photo of it on social media and it yielded huge interest or traction.  It struck a familiar chord with so many.   A number of people commented that it was so much part of the fabric of their journeys over and back as they travelled the road.  An on-line search didn’t give much information, so I decided to consult the oracle, Fr. Pat O’Neill in Ruan.   Fr. Pat knows everyone is Clare and he informed me it was the work of a local man called Frankie O’Sullivan.  He assured me that Frankie would be most welcoming.  Fr. Pat was on-the-ball, Frankie being all that and most generous with his time.

On a fine Summer evening I ventured out in search of the man to find out more.  What a delightful visit it as to meet Frankie and his wife Mary, hospitality personified.  The house epitomised the quintessential Irish Cottage; neatly kept, emblems and symbols of old Ireland all round, farm instruments, old implements, ploughs, turnip cutters and of course the occasional leprechaun peering out at you keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.  Two equally friendly little ponies  were happily grazing in the front lawn and a number of horses in the adjacent field.  One of the most elaborate and comprehensive bird feeding structure was on display at the side of the house.  The din of the birds and what seemed like millions of crows made a raucous cacophony in the background, reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds!

Frankie, a man passionate about his locality, the history and traditions of his native area was a driver for many years in different roles, mainly buses but also a ministerial driver for some time. Combining this with his commitment to family, sport, all things Clare, local history and community he also has a great interest in farming.   Having a clear  recall and memory along with the gift of the gab, he has many an interesting story.

His great passion for many years was the development of this monument and it is full of meaning and symbolism.  The boulders or stones that were used in the building of what he calls The Crusheen Rockwere once the stepping stones that were taken from the nearby Clooneen lake.  A Mass-path which ran from the southern slopes of the Burren to the old Church in Crusheen, which was nearby ran through a section of the lake, hence the need for stepping stones.  The stepping stones were used by previous generations to get to Mass.  This lake was drained to make way for the M18.  The M18 runs through the centre of Frankie O’Sullivan’s land in Clooneen.  At the time when the road was being constructed, because the stones were from his land Frankie asked the National Road’s Authority if he could use them for an historical and commemorate project, a request that was happily granted.  The monument took him ten years to build and was truly a labour of love.  It preserves some important elements of our historical and religious heritage.

Prior to the arrival of the M18 this location was a quiet, secluded lake and every Winter on their way from Greenland to the Southern Hemisphere the Wild Geese rested a while on the lake and surroundings.  As these days have passed the Geese on the Rock are a testament to the memory of the days that are gone and to return no more.

A short video documenting some elements of the landmark are on my various social media platforms.

The crows were determined to be an integral part of the sound system in same, being in full voice on the evening of recording.  I wonder what the wild geese would make of their attempt to steal the show!

✠ Fintan Monahan is Bishop of Killaloe

Article for Clare Champion 8th of September 2023